Psittacosis… A Zoonotic Disease

Greenie and LucyPsittacosis, also called ornithosis and previously known as Parrot Fever, is a bacterial disease that can strike birds. They can succumb to it directly or merely carry it and shed the bacteria into the environment posing a risk to other birds and even humans. Cockatiels and budgies (parakeets) are most commonly infected; however, all parrots and many other birds, such as pigeons and doves, can also become infected or act as carriers.  Infected birds with a good immune system can be asymptomatic, however they may actively shed the bacteria in their feces and their respiratory secretions. During times of stress, such as molting, owners traveling, visitors staying in the home, changing the position of a bird’s cage, etc, an asymptomatic carrier may become sick with the disease .  Stress and a poor immune system are underlying reasons that people contract Psittacosis. Diseases that spread from animals or birds to humans are called ZOONOTIC diseases.

Seven the cockatiel 5-513Symptoms of Psittacosis in birds can vary. Birds can present with respiratory symptoms such as discharge from their eyes or nares, coughing, sneezing or wheezing.  Very commonly Psittacosis affects other organs in the body such as the liver, spleen and the GI tract.  The urates (or white portion of the stool) commonly turn a yellow or a lime green color. Birds can lose their appetite, become fluffed and have diarrhea.  If this disease is caught in a timely fashion, your vet can treat your bird successfully via weekly antibiotic injections for 6 weeks.

At St. Marks Veterinary Hospital we recommend testing all birds for Psittacosis.  Any new avian additions should be kept in a separate area from other birds for 30-60 days if possible. After the quarantine period and after testing, the birds may be introduced to each other…. although there are never any guarantees since birds may test negative and they can still harbor the bacteria.

Cooper Lesser 7-23-13Humans most commonly acquire Psittacosis through aerosolized infected bird droppings, although respiratory secretions can also spread the disease. In people with a good immune system, Psittacosis may mimic the symptoms of a cold that is self-limiting. However, if an individual is stressed or is immune compromised, they may become extremely ill. A very high fever (hence the previous name Parrot Fever), malaise, muscle aches and atypical pneumonia are common sequelae of the disease.  It is VERY important as a bird owner to be sure that your physician knows you own a bird, especially if you are sick. Again, it is a very treatable disease as long as it is treated immediately.

Please be sure your bird visits your veterinarian for annual exams.  Our goal is to keep you and your birds healthy so that you may enjoy a long, happy and healthy life together!

What to Do When a Baby Bird Flies the Coop…or Falls from the Nest

bird

During the Spring and Summer months, it’s not uncommon to come across what looks like an orphaned baby bird on the ground, exposed and vulnerable. What should you do when you see a baby bird in need of assistance? It’s important to first determine:

  • Is the bird a hatchling or a fledgling?
  • Has the bird actually been abandoned?

What’s a Hatchling?

A hatchling is small and may be bald or only have tufts of feathers. They are very young and fragile and may accidentally fall from their nests. If the nest from which the hatchling fell can be identified, the baby bird should be placed back in the nest, is possible. It is a myth that handling by humans will cause the parents to abandon their young, partly because of birds’ poorly developed senses of smell. They may not even notice a human has touched their young! In the event that the nest is out of reach, the young may be placed in a small box lined with tissue or shredded paper and placed as close to the nest as possible. Cover the box with loose paper for protection while still allowing the parents easy access for retrieval. Do not offer food. The diets of birds are very specific and it’s best to just allow the parents to take over.

What’s a Fledgling?

Fledglings are more mature than hatchlings and may have full feathering, with shorter wings and tails. Fledglings may leave the nest several days before being able to fly, and so may be found on the ground, apparently helpless. The parents will still be caring for these babies though they may not be immediately visible or identifiable. When a fledgling is found, it is important to just stop and observe whether the parents are nearby. If may take half an hour or longer for the parents to return. Again, if the fledgling seems to be in an unsafe spot, it is okay to put the bird in a box and move it to a more sheltered area, as close to where it was found as possible. The parents, who will be listening for their young, should be able to take over from there.

Handling Baby Birds

Ideally, you should always wear gloves when handling birds and wash your hands thoroughly after. Even baby birds can carry parasites. Remember, in New York City, it is illegal to keep wild birds in captivity even if you plan to release them. If you have found a bird that is in need of medical care, or that the parents have not identified, please contact us, or contact a wildlife rehabilitator such as Wild Bird Fund.